Taylor Eigsti: The Prodigy, Revisited

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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AAJ: The track is so exciting that it feels almost perilous, like you're navigating the cliffs at Macchu Picchu.

TE: It was definitely freaking me out to play with him. He's amazing.

AAJ: Does he do percussion too?

TE: There are four bass strings at the very end of the harp. So he's basically playing two instruments at once. One hand is just going nuts with some of the craziest rhythmic improvisations you can have.

AAJ: And now to the suite. My favorite part is the middle track, "Not Lost Yet." They're all very cool, but this one is very funky, and it reminds me of someone walking around in circles saying, "I'm not lost yet, but I'm close."

Taylor Eigsti

TE: There's a jagged rhythm in there that makes you feel a little off balance. I wanted the flutes always to be together in one harmony, almost like a siren. My classical friends were saying you can't write flutes like that, you should do single lines and put them together, but I was going for a triple instrument, something like a three-headed flautist, always talking in a triad.

AAJ: Tell me more about the multi-tracking in the suite.

TE: On each tune, there's one or two drum tracks: a straight track of drums, then Eric would come back with some percussion thing. There's usually a few layers behind the piano, including one I call "rhythm piano." It's piano-playing really loud and fast—I was sweating. But when we actually used it, we played it so far down that it sounds more like an echo. I wanted a piano-flavored reverb, a really strange, repeating thing. I'm not so into the computer effects: I wanted it to sound like it's coming from an acoustic piano.

AAJ: People won't know exactly what they're hearing, but it will register as something different.

TE: Like in the ballad right before the suite, which is kind of a honorary part of the suite. As "Let It Come To You" progresses, especially near the end, you can hear this whole other piano track of really loud and fast chords, but turned down super low.

AAJ: That track conveys a state of acceptance and calm, and then the suite describes how you found your way there. You explained a lot of your reasoning in the liners. You'll have to forgive me, Tay, but I'm more than twice your age, and there's a part of me that thinks, that's so cute that he figured out the meaning of life so young. Then I remembered that, when I was in my early twenties, I also had it down; I'd already figured out how to be One with the Universe. But it is true, as you say, that "all you can control is your sense of self and personal happiness." A lot of people never get that, and they lose a lot of stomach lining in the process.

TE: Well, I've lost my share of lining too, even at this point, just to arrive at that conclusion. When the last record was about to come out, I had a lot of personal issues. I was in Seattle on New Year's Eve, and I had nobody, I was completely alone. Six days later, I broke my collarbone snowboarding, but right after that, things started to pick up in so many ways. Now I believe that if you put your entire self into something, you should let the logistics figure themselves out.

AAJ: It also helps to know what you want.

TE: I am so fortunate in that respect. I figured that out when I was 8, when my dad told me you actually get paid to do this. I have friends my age who still don't know what they want to do.

AAJ: And I have friends my age who are in the same place.

TE: I want to be happy with myself and my development as a musician. There are all sorts of battles, since every artist has to fight for himself: "Listen, this is what's gonna go down." Luckily I have people around me who are really on my side, and it's good that at the label, they genuinely like the music. They are always going to make more money on Paul McCartney and Michael Bolton than I can make for them, but if they're willing to put out an instrumental jazz album, I really respect that. That comes from starting as a car dealership, with [pianist] Gene Harris telling them he'd record for them for free.

AAJ: Concord Records started out as a car dealership?

TE: Concord started as a small label with two people at a car dealership. Carl Jefferson had this whole concept of releasing a few albums; they got Gene Harris. And when Concord was going through some difficulties, Gene stepped up and said, "Listen, I just want to record for you guys. So that was the early mentality of respect for the music; they've held onto that, and seem to be really genuine people.

AAJ: In bringing jazz to young people, you're going to combine it with, what, hip hop?

TE: One of my goals is to do some collaborations, like what Herbie [Hancock] has been doing, but a little bit more compositional and integrated into my world.

Taylor Eigsti AAJ: Like with Björk?

TE: One of my dreams. If that happens, I'm good, I'm good.

AAJ: That wouldn't seem to be that hard to accomplish...

TE: Well, I don't know. Julian and I keep seeing these little teams of nerdy dudes getting to work on different projects of hers; we say we need to buy some small wire glasses, and own a studio together, and always be on our computers—and then we'll get the Björk gig.

My dream record—I really hope I can make it someday—would involve bringing Wayne Shorter and Björk together. In my opinion, Wayne's voice on his sax, and Björk voice on her instrument, are the two voices that are the most human and emotional, like emotion before anything. Björk has such perfect intonation when she's hitting high notes: she's yelling,, she's screaming, you can hear all the emotion, but it's right on pitch. If I could somehow be a catalyst to bring those two voices together... but that's a high-budget record. We'll see what happens.

AAJ: One more question: this is the free space part. You get to opine on anything you want—except for football.

TE: We'd be here all night...

AAJ: Is there anything you want to launch about?

TE: I want to say that a lot of my gigs are in places where there aren't a lot of young people because the ticket prices are so high. If people really want to bring jazz to younger audiences, they have to find a way to lower their prices. After all, those are the people who are hopefully going to be listening to my music in 30 years.

AAJ: Amen!

TE: I want to make music that has very visible emotion and story-telling. I'm trying to make music that people don't have to like or understand jazz to enjoy: they can appreciate the emotional language of the music, and it's fun for them to watch. I don't ever want to get too introspective that it abandons the audience, and they can't figure out what's going on. And I never want to get too dark that everyone is forced to be as dark as I am in order to enjoy it. My favorite music is music that is emotional, and listenable, with driving rhythms—but also somewhat neutral in that people can make of it whatever they want.

Selected Discography

Taylor Eigsti, Let It Come To You (Concord, 2008)
Chris Brubeck, Convergence (Koch, 2007)
Taylor Eigsti, Lucky To Be Me (Concord, 2006)
Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Intuition (Koch, 2006)
Taylor Eigsti, Resonance (Bop City, 2003)
Taylor Eigsti Trio, Taylor's Dream (DIW, 2001)

Photo Credits

Top Photo: Dragan Tasic

Center Photo: Dr. Judith Schlesinger

Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Concord Music Group


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